The International Writers Magazine: Book Review
Lightmans Reunion and Milan Kunderas Ignorance
recently read Alan Lightmans Reunion and Milan Kunderas
Ignorance, and much is similar in the two books, unfortunately
in the most negative light. Both involve reunions of former lovers.
The former takes
place all in the mind of a professor going to his thirtieth college
reunion, and the later takes place in the Czech Republic, after the
fall of Communism, twenty or more years after the lovers broke up and
fled their nation. Both are small, slim books - the kind that really
arent novels, but novellas, yet their dust covers believethey
can snooker the public into believing are novels by calling the A
Novel. Lightman surprised the literary world in the late 1990s
with his actually good little book, also not a novel, called Einsteins
Dreams, while Kundera is a household name worldwide, on the basis
of his two masterpieces, The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting,
and The Unbearable Lightness Of Being. Since their success over
two decades ago he has struggled mightily to regain his touch, with
a series of hit and miss efforts. This book is a so-so effort, yet it
is far superior to Lightmans book, which has none of the intellectual
sparkle of Einsteins Dreams, which was almost a latter
day Flatland. I know hes written other books in the interim,
but this book is absolutely atrocious.
Here are summaries of both books plots: In Reunion, a middle-aged
professor named Charles, with a successful job and faithful, caring
lover, goes to his thirtieth reunion, muses in his room over a lost
love, Juliana, his ballet dancer girlfriend who cheated with him with
a professor. He caught them, blackmailed the professor into calling
it off, then found out she was pregnant, and forced her to not have
the abortion she wanted. The girlfriend fled and he never saw her again.
The book ends with the professors younger self whining to him,
and the professor returning to his newest lover and crying on her shoulder.
In Ignorance the lovers end up meeting, having a brief romantic
reunion in real life, then part again, with a bit better of a feeling
about themselves. Of course, Kundera goes off on his now almost predictable
digressions, and they are among his better ones in recent books. Lightman-
well, he has written a novel that seems adapted from a bad 1970s television
movie of the week. His sentences are larded with clichés, and
those that are not describe a world that is barren in detail and intellect.
I could picture Robert Conrad as Charles the elder, and a young Nicollete
Sheridan as Juliana- the perfectly narcotized bimbo that Lightman doesnt
realize his creation is. Who cares who would be the young Charles? Hed
just end up in Diet Pepsi ads.
By contrast, even though even less, ostensibly happens in Kunderas
Ignorance, at least he has honed his digressions to the point that even
when the narrative he tells is a snooze, there will always be a half
dozen or so two to three page runs where you know youve at least
broken even for your expenditure - provided you got the book at a used
bookstore, or one of those remaindered discount outlets. Lightmans
hardcover book, at full price ran for $22 even, Kunderas for $23.95.
Aside from their brevity neither work is a novel - they are fillips,
digressions, fictive essays of a sort, eructations that in no way deserve
mass publication. Kunderas book is a mildly entertaining New Yorker
story, if cut to its actual good length of a quarter its size, while
Lightmans is a backburner story on All My Children. Neither
book seems to understand that good novels are designed to eavesdrop
in the lives of a character or characters at a crucial moment in their
lives, to see how they react, and hopefully grow. Charles, in Reunion,
weeps and weeps, while the protagonist in Ignorance- and I wont
name him because Milan refused me a real story, simply goes on with
his carefree life after boffing his lover again.
One need go no further than the first three paragraphs of Lightmans
book to see that, regardless of the tale, the writing is simply flaccid,
trite and dull:
Sheila lies on top of me, snoring, her heavy breasts heavy
on my chest, her stomach on my stomach, her hair damp in the afternoon
heat, a shard of light through the white shutters she closes when we
make love, the slow beat of the overhead fan, the tiny sound of a radio
from the street. I too am falling asleep.
I fly above mountains, dizzy, frightened. Someones arm
slides across my face. What? What? An hour has passed, maybe two. I
sit up on the silk rug, sweaty. In slow motion, Sheila kisses the back
of my neck, stands, and stretches.
I like it here, with the books, she says and yawns.
I always have. Have you read them all? Ill bet most of them
are for show. Grinning at me, she takes a long sip from the wineglass
on the bookshelf. I watch the amber liquid swirl slowly around her lips,
I stare at her body, creamy and white. She is not unattractive in her
middle-aged nakedness, and I think that I may even love her, but I am
ready for her to leave. There is a certain book I want to finish.
Its not this book, trust me. Are all liquids drunk amber?
And isnt creamy and white not only trite, but redundant? It couldnt
get worse? Yes, it does. Later on this actually appears in the book:
Is it possible for a person to love without wanting love back? Is
anything so pure? Or is love, by its nature, a reciprocity, like oceans
and clouds, an evaporating of seawater and a replenishing by rain?
No, Lightman is not seventeen. But he is a bad writer, for I suspect
this book is far closer to his actual talents than the anomalous first
book, Einsteins Dreams, which probably took twenty years
of revising to get good, even though its barely over half the
length of the skimpy Reunion. As for Kundera, despite this books
handful of good moments its time for him to not pick up his pen
until he really has something new to say, narratively or philosophically.
Is a one night stand really the best he can offer? Kundera is merely
a weak shadow of his former greatness. My guess is this is his last
even decent tale. As for Lightman
© Dan Schneider Oct 2005
Visit Dan at www.Cosmoetica.com
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Range: Wyoming Stories
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